eServices for tough times: Why digital is the way forward in social welfare

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Controlling costs and improving service efficiency are the main challenges faced by government departments across Europe and further afield. No more so than in the area of social welfare and employment, where governments support people who are often hard hit by the economic downturn. When budgets are shrinking, how can they make it easier for […]

Controlling costs and improving service efficiency are the main challenges faced by government departments across Europe and further afield. No more so than in the area of social welfare and employment, where governments support people who are often hard hit by the economic downturn. When budgets are shrinking, how can they make it easier for people to receive the money they’re entitled to, and widen access to information and services?

The response to these challenges is increasingly to go digital. To automate services in order to do as much as possible online, cutting the cost of service delivery with fewer resources needed for face-to-face and telephone contact with the public. This approach can also result in more accurate customer data being stored, bringing better insight into people’s circumstances and needs.

Last week on this blog we looked at how the Belastingdienst’s new automated, online services give Dutch citizens a better deal. Also in the Netherlands, Capgemini is working with the social welfare and employment agency UWV on its evolving digital strategy.

UWV is commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment (SZW) to implement employee insurance and provide labor market and data services. So, for example, it works with municipalities and temporary employment agencies to help citizens find and retain work. When people are out of work it ensures that benefits are provided quickly and correctly. It evaluates sickness and incapacity. And it compiles and manages data on wages, benefits and labour relations. It’s a costly business at a time when budgets are being slashed.

UWV’s Chief Information Officer Frans Haverkamp places the agency’s ICT at the heart of its ability to deliver these services efficiently and cost effectively. He says “ICT should make it possible for us to monitor and gradually reduce our expenses and to digitize our services and internal work processes wherever possible.” This is especially so as UWV undergoes a transformation, as Frans explains: “We are transforming into an eGovernment organisation as both civilians and companies are now highly internet-based. So the web is our main channel for our services and communication to the public.”

UWV is a trendsetter in public services, which have generally been slower than the private sector to unlock the potential of the online channel and smartphone apps to help customers (both citizens and companies) self-serve. Achieving that channel shift is not straightforward, since like many large public sector organizations, UWV depends on a set of legacy applications which are complex to maintain. They have to be modernized to integrate with customer portals they were not originally designed to support, and the information they hold is business critical.

The face to face channel will always be vital, but with so much available online, the job centres of the past are increasingly focused on enabling valuable interaction between the public and specialist advisors, not just making information available. The good news for jobseekers is that UWV is on track to achieve its ambition of making 90% of services to unemployed people electronic by 2015.

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